As a Keralite who loves travelling, you would expect that I know a lot about Kochi. But when a friend recently asked me for suggestions, I was quite surprised that I was at a total loss. Two reasons for that – I had lived in Kochi for only 3 years, and while I lived there, I had never really looked at it from the perspective of a traveler. So I put on my traveler spectacles, and after some deliberation, came up with this list of to-dos in Kochi.
1. Fort Kochi – No, there’s no fort in Fort Kochi. Why is it so named? I don’t know. 🙂 What I do know is Fort Kochi is quite, quite charming. Yes, there are the crowds and the traffic, and yes, it is hot, but this is Kerala, a tropical state with the highest population density in the country. Explore the bylanes with the old beautiful buildings, stroll through the tree-lined streets, shop for spices in the smaller shops, discover the Chinese fishing nets (Easily, the most iconic image for Fort Kochi). In the evenings, head out to the waterfront and ask the guys at the small shacks to fry some fresh fish for you. Yum! Head out to Princess street for some nice restaurants, art galleries, book stores, and shopping! Or you could visit St Francis church, supposed to be the oldest European-built church in India. (Interesting trivia – the remains of Vasco Da Gama were preserved here, but was later sent over to Portugal)
2. Explore the waterfront – Take a speed boat or a ferry and explore the coast. There are ferries which start from both Thevara as well as city center. There’s of course the local ferries which take you to the islands off the coast like Vypeen. These boats are most often crowded with office goers and locals, but if you want a true Cochin experience, this could be it! Willing to spend a bit more money, and you could hire a speed boat and go even as far as the Vembanad kaayal near Kottayam. The coastline is stunning – coconut palms swaying over the green water, waves lapping on sandy beaches, sometimes breaking over shallow cliffs, narrow streams and inlets converging into the wider backwaters, small houses with sloping brown-tiled roofs, whitewashed churches, streches of the most breathtaking green.
The newly refurbished Sagara Rani boat offers cruises into the backwaters and sun set cruises in the Arabian sea at ridiculously low prices (http://www.sagararani.in)
3. Mattanchery and Jew Town – Fort Kochi has more of the tourists, whereas Mattanchery has a very local feel to it. It also
has a lot of colonial buildings, but it somehow seamlessly merges with the malayali flavor of the town. One of the main attractions of the place is the Dutch Mattanchery Palace, built initially by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century, presented to the Kochi Maharaja, and then finally renovated by the Dutch in the sixteenth century. Word of caution – don’t visit it, expecting the grandeur of a European palace, or even a Rajastani one. This one has a much more small-scale feel to it. You will see 🙂 Jew town is where the original Jewish settlers stayed when they first arrived in Kochi years back. The Jewish synagogue is still being used, and is one of the oldest active synagogues. But more than anything, the place still has the air of a trading port as it once was, when traders across the globe came over for spices and antiques. Walk through the streets and you will smell the spices in the air. Look for souvenirs and antiques in the smaller shops.
4. Art and Culture – Kerala has a very unique and distinct culture which manifests itself in music, dance, and architecture. Mohiniattam and Kathakali are very unique dance forms true to the malayali ethos. Note of caution: While dances are inherently beautiful, it’s also somewhat of an acquired taste. The dances usually use subtle movements and expressions to convey a story, but it might be perceived as “slow”. Suffice to say, go watch it – not with the expectation of “entertainment”, but that of “art” 🙂 Check out the Greenix Village, Kochi Cultural Center, and Kerala Kathakali Center for performances
5. Ayurveda – If you are into spas, an Ayurveda massage might not be the thing for you. If your idea of relaxing is – getting gently rubbed with aromatic oil and then lowering yourself into a warm bath, then Ayurveda is definitely not for you. Ayurveda is more about health and medicine and holistic living. Having said that, a number of Ayurvedic massages and treatments like Shirodhara relieve stress and make you feel much better. Check out the Agastyaayurveda Wellness center and the Fort Ayurveda spa in Fort Kochi for ayurvedic treatments.
6. Food – Okay, I am biased, but I really believe that Kerala does have the best food in the world. Try local specialities like the Karimeen polichathu, Natholi fry, Beef fry, Kanava thoran (Squid), etc etc etc. Vegetarians have equally good options – snacks like parippu vada, banana fritters, ada, sugiyan, appam, idiyapam and stew, and of course the Kerala meals. Popular eateries include the Brunton Boatyard Hotel, Fort Cochin, Tea Pot Café – Peter Celli Street, Fort Cochin, Grand Pavilion, Ernakulam (famous for Kerala Syrian Christian delicacies), Kayikka’s Rahmuthala Hotel (famous for the biryani), and the Tower House (packs a divine baked crab)
7. Islands – Life on the coast is beautiful, life on the islands is even better. Explore islands like Vypeen Island and
Bolgatty island to get a view of the local life.
Here are a few cheat options:
1. Marine Drive – Supposed to be one of the the hippest area in Ernakulam. It has the new age cafes and restaurants and you would find the young and the trendy strolling along the pathways. A lot of the “new age” Malayali movies have at least one
scene picturized here.
2. Athirampally falls – Okay, this is not Cochin. But it’s a 2 hour drive from Cochin, and totally worth it in my opinion. The falls are spectacular, especially in Cochin.
3. The Five-star experience – Cochin has quite a few luxury hotels where you can not only indulge your food cravings, but also spend the day in pristine surroundings. I remember the Taj Malabar and The Colonial to be great options for the luxury traveler.